What makes prejudice so infectious? Because those who have similar beliefs can bond together and share thoughts and hatreds normally left hidden. It’s a lonely world and all of us want to belong, so we tend to look to those who look like us, who think like us, who feel like us, to immerse ourselves beneath a blanket of what we think of as “belonging”. Sometimes we wear that blanket as a shield to block ourselves out from the world. We see anyone else as an invasion of our space, and really don’t know how to react to what we view as an intrusion. But prejudice has no place in our Order.
As most of us must know by now, Sovereign Grand Lodge has mandated that we adhere to a strict policy of non-discrimination. They have instructed us to insert a statement to this effect within each Lodge’s bylaws. Yet, to some, this is an affront to their ordinary mindset. One member, for example, has sent racist-tinged tests to a wide selection of acquaintances for years. I have saved some if you wish to view them. I asked him about it once and he said that he did not even read many of them, just passed them on. This is unacceptable. We see from actions such as these that it’s sometimes hard to recognize it on one’s self because it tends to act as a preventive mechanism meant to defy change or loss of status. Our Order has been literally decimated by bigotry of distinct types, whether knowing or unknowing. For example, texts in our rituals talk of all members as “he” (and Lodges still read from these verbatim), and in older texts, everyone other than white, are the “lower races”. Most of us are by now aware of the legal cases our Order has dealt with in defending ourselves against charges for cruelty against those with disabilities. Yet we have religious zealots, extreme fundamentalists, who are generally the most hateful among us, who see others as outsiders, yet are so confused in their own beliefs, they fail to even define what they themselves believe. Basically, then, bigotry is a blind hatred and cruelty towards anyone not in one’s own circle.
Of course, we must return to today’s main and indisputable fact: the fact that the issue of non-discrimination is currently number 1 in priority at Sovereign Grand Lodge. As your current Sovereign Grand Lodge Representative, I can tell you that SGL is extremely serious about non-discrimination, particularly in any interaction with the public. They had a two-hour seminar last year led by attorneys devoted to ensuring that all members practice (not just talk the talk, but walk the walk) genuine non-discriminatory behavior. Unfortunately, we have some members within our own state who have failed to get the message.
One example: The North-South Group. Many of you have probably never heard of the North-South Group. It is a group made up of about 30 individuals, purportedly influential members, some from Northern California and others from Southern California who meet once a year on the Tuesday evening prior to Grand Lodge Sessions. Originally, they met to discuss legislation, elections, and other issues that were to be brought up during sessions. I am a member of this group. Many of the members are fine, moral members. However, prospective new members of this group are nominated at the dinner and then may be objected to in secret messages to the Secretary. This, alone, should be a red flag to any onlooker, but of course there are none. Why is such a thing shrouded in secrecy? Three “no” votes will blackball a prospective member. The problem is that prominent women members of the Order have been nominated by myself and by others to join this group – some several times – and on every occasion these women have been blackballed. Thus, a minority of three – operating in secret – has made the North-South Group an icon of prejudice and discrimination. I am including this in my article because discrimination must end and hateful individuals must either change their ways or leave the order. It’s almost absurd to say this to Odd Fellows – people who profess to be all about Friendship, Love and Truth – but we still have members in our Order who do not interact with their brothers and sisters in the spirit of FLT. As a member of the North-South Group, I have asked the Secretary to tell me who has been barred from joining this year, and he has refused to respond to me other than saying that “some” have been excluded. No reason is given, and only casual winking by misogynistic and prejudiced types is allowed. This group has no right to exist if it thinks somehow it can lead by exclusion. If a group of friends want to have dinner, fine, but a group that gathers under the pretense of future planning for the Order that consistently and regularly allows a minority of three to bar women is unacceptable in this era of non-discrimination. It must stop now.
Example two: A.M.O.S. “The Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans” – another small group that is men only, and fading quickly, also explicitly bars women, although they have a tiny, almost non-existent “sister group”. The point is why even bother with this pretense? Although it is a congenial group of male members they look at prejudice through that congenial lens, as though continued prejudice is a lark to be coveted. If this group barred anyone in a wheelchair, or anyone who is Chinese-American, or anyone who is Latino, would that be acceptable to you? Barring women is no less unacceptable. We should not tolerate a group that blatantly discriminates against people based on their gender.
It’s really time to stop all the prejudice. If you, dear member, want to wear prejudice as an emblem, at least have the courage to declare it openly. If you think women are not equal to you, say it out loud. If you object to other religions, declare that as well. It’s time that those who bear prejudice are no longer borne by our Order.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles